King of the Hills Sai Kung (2011-2012)

What a grueling day! Either a sign of getting old or a sign of lack of training. Or maybe both! Anyway, the weather was perfect for the second race of the 4-part King of the Hills (KOTH) series. It was about 15 degrees centigrade and partially overcast today. The race was held in Sai Kung and the full course is about 38kms long.

As usual, I was riding my motorbike to the starting point (Pak Tam Chung in Sai Kung) and when I made a familiar sharp turn from Clear Water Bay road to Hiram’s highway, I was reminded of the time I bravely saved a rabbit’s life with complete disregard for my own safety. It was undoubtedly very heroic and selfless of me to do so but since that day, I have been very careful to avoid rabbits of all shapes and sizes. So, when I made that turn today, I was extra slow and on 2nd gear, that too without acceleration. An impatient car driver kept flashing his headlights at me from behind which was very counterproductive for him as I slowed down even further to annoy him. I was thinking how neat it would be to have a big balloon pop up from behind my motorbike with this message for the car driver: “Hey [expletive], my safety takes priority over your speed!”

I reached Pak Tam Chung at 8.30am and walked over to the registration desk. The whole area had a super fit aura to it. It looked like all the lean and mean trail runners of Hong Kong wanted to be the kings and queens of the hills! There was enough combined energy there to move mountains, not just climb them! The full and half marathons started at the same time (9am).

As with every race I participate in, I was stuck in a racer traffic jam from the very beginning. There were all sorts of “vehicles” present; ranging from those ultra-light, super-fast acceleration vehicles (some dude weighing about 50 kilos who can comfortably pull off a high-speed overtaking act in the narrowest part of an already narrow trail) to a heavy-duty truck with plenty of raw horsepower (some 6’5″ tall dude with long legs made of iron. This dude might be slow to accelerate but has the distinct height advantage of being able to hop from one boulder to another distant boulder with the ease that can only be matched by a humungous frog). I was stuck somewhere in the middle and took a more cautious approach at overtaking as I am neither that talented when compared to these other runners, nor am I such a big risk taker. Besides, I had a vehicle of my own (or so I thought). I was going to be more like a mere bicycle. Slower to accelerate and slower to ride BUT it would never run out of fuel! Ok, perhaps not the best example but my point is that I was going to rely on my endurance and overtake much later when the trails widen. Hopefully at a time when most of these other “vehicles” would have run out of fuel.

Murphy’s law certainly held true for me, just as the trails did widen – “If something can go wrong, it will”. The bottom of my left foot (below the ankle) went numb for no apparent reason. I tried slowing down but when you are in a freeway and you see vehicles speeding on all lanes, it’s hard to do so. My right foot also started misbehaving shortly after that, so I resorted to running on the slowest lane (extreme right on a concrete path). I was focusing only on the destination and desperately trying not to be bothered by those “vehicles” that were overtaking me from neighboring lanes and sending a waft of breeze my way each time they zoomed past me.

There was an occasion where the course seemed to be wrongly marked. There were two conflicting markers at a junction, one indicating that we were supposed to go up some hill and the other suggesting that we were supposed to carry on running on a concrete path. I went up the hill along with several other runners until one of them shouted “wrong way”. Those are awesome words to hear if you are at the back because suddenly, and without much additional effort, you are suddenly at the front! As we retreated to the junction, it appeared as though I gained a few spots over fellow runners who also needless went up that hill but in the grand scheme of things, I lost time. But, time was the last thing on my mind. I was more concerned about finishing the whole course at that point.

Just before the end of the half marathon, we had to run on a trail full of stones and boulders that seemed to hug the Sai Kung coastline (I was focused more on not tripping and falling over the boulders, so didn’t quite get much of a chance to admire the beauty of the Sai Kung coast). This is when most of us had the pleasure of being introduced to a very beautiful Queen of the Hills. She is not just beautiful but is very fast. She is also single. Yes, she does sound like the ideal girlfriend but that’s only if you are a male bee. This queen bee and her friends declared war on us as we were trying to cross her territory. I knew something was wrong when the superfast runner in front of me suddenly hit reverse gear. I continued running my engines and OUCH! The queen stung me with a serious vengeance. I stepped on the gas and escaped with only one sting and a bruised ego.

I saw Hannes at the finish of the half-marathon who yelled “you took a shortcut” or something like that. I was still recovering from that passionate kiss from the queen bee so couldn’t really ask him when or where. I continued on the full marathon course and hit a trail that involved some serious and never-ending bushwhacking which was getting on my nerves. All my supposedly healed scars from saving that rabbit in Sai Kung were being tested for endurance by all the thorny branches of trees and shrubs. My leg also got worse. The heels of both legs were shooting off pain signals to the brain each time they hit the ground. Probably because my shoes were getting old and the insoles and treads were wearing out (Note to self: BUY NEW SHOES!)

I saw my Trailwalker teammate Steven at some point which was a surprise. I was expecting him to be a good 20 minutes ahead. He explained to me that he had lost over 20 minutes by actually going up that hill we weren’t supposed to climb. We ended up exchanging places frequently during most of the remainder of the course until Steven suggested that we finish as a team. I was initially a bit reluctant as I was very slow by then and didn’t want to slow him down even further. That didn’t seem to bother my teammate so we started to run/walk together the last few kms. We had two huge hills to climb towards the end and then had to descend straight into Pak Tam Chung road on a steep and slippery trail. By that time, I felt like a 60-year-old man in pain and was very slow in my descent. Then, Steven and I turned back and looked up the hill we had just come down and found a real 60-year-old man running down that steep slope in trailblazing fashion. This veteran was none other than Claus! I only wish I can be as fast as him when I turn 60! He overtook us and later on admonished me at the finish “tell your mom that you got beaten by a 60-year-old. If you keep getting beaten by a 60-year-old, you will lose confidence!”

Steven and I finished as a team at 1pm! Time: 5 hours 33 seconds and 18th in my category, 35th overall. KOTH is getting more and more competitive with each passing year!

They say that “there is opportunity in crisis” and, at the finish line, I was told by Alice about a gentleman who practices that to perfection. He had a rather innovative and entrepreneurial way of dealing with that bee sting which most of us experienced. He wanted the ladies at the finish line to “pee” on him because, apparently, the way to heal a sting by a bee is through lady pee. Alice corrected him and explained that this peeing method only applies to stings by jellyfish. But, something tells me he doesn’t quite care.

Great day out. Two lessons learnt (a) buy new shoes! (b) wear pants for KOTH Sai Kung! [Now, this old man has to recover quickly.]



King of the Hills – Sai Kung – Full Marathon – 2011

What a day! I used to think that KOTH Lantau was the toughest but now I think KOTH Sai Kung is the toughest in the series! The half marathon course is not that hard. Lots of running on the flats. But the full marathon course (the 2nd half) is tough as hell. You keep climbing and climbing and it seems like there is no respite.

Anyway, this is what happened today.

I was trying to play my A game today. I wanted to see what I was capable of and more importantly, I wanted to beat Claus (the near 60-year-old superman who beat me in the last race). Weather was perfect. Cloudy and about 18 degrees.

I did a bit of warm up at the start, so no real issues in the beginning unlike the last race. The only trouble was overtaking. Reminded me of Care Action. Too many people and it was hard to overtake without risking injury to self or the “overtakee”. The course goes through some sort of outdoors prison (or so it seemed) and the thumping noise of 100s of runners sent all the dogs on a barking spree.

My strategy was to play my own game. Meaning, keep running speed below 13.5kmh, ignore the overtakers and conserve some energy for the tough 2nd half. It seemed to work. I was running with the legendary KK Chan on parts of the half marathon and even overtook him (much to my surprise) just before the half marathon check point.

Half was easy. I still felt relatively fresh and completed the half in either 1 hr 59 mins or 2 hrs on the dot. Then came the tough bits! KK Chan showed me who was boss and overtook me with admirable ease on the next climb up.

It seemed like I was climbing forever and the course goes up and down with a lot of flats in between. Energy levels dipped about 30 minutes into the 2nd half. I started consuming a lot of gel (1 gel + 2 Blocks). Ran out of water at one point and felt quit thirsty but quenched the thirst by consuming more gel. (Bad idea, I later realized). Anyway, managed to overtake a few people. The trail eventually connects to Mac 2 and then deviates again. After that there is one hell of a climb to two mountains. At that point, I started experiencing leg cramps/stomach cramps (lasted only about 3-5 seconds but quite intense). I had to kill speed and persist. I was visualizing the finish line at one point in the hopes that it would make time run fast! Garmin showed about 28km, still had 10kms to go. Some superman came out of nowhere from behind and overtook me. One such super duper man was William Davies himself (the guy who wins with ease). “Aren’t you supposed to be way up ahead?” I asked him. “I got lost” he replied and disappeared into the horizon.

By the time, I got down to the road from the mountains, I was dead tired. Running down on all the boulders and pebbles wasn’t pleasant on the legs and I lost concentration for a second. Then came a big fall. Possibly the 5th or 6th one for the day. This fall though, triggered all the cramps on both legs and the stomach. I had to sit for 30 seconds, relax and then continued jogging.

On the final part of the course, there is an irritating and needless (that’s what I was telling myself then) 3km family trail before the finish. I was exhausted and couldn’t increase pace beyond 9kmh. I looked back intermittently to ensure Claus wasn’t around. Luckily, he wasn’t but my gut feeling insisted that he was only 1-2 minutes behind. So, I maintained 9kmh and finished at 1336! Sure enough, Claus came in at about 1339, walked up to me and exclaimed “Do you not have any respect for elders?” Hilarious. Had the course been 5km longer, he’d have kicked my butt.

I have said this before and I will say it again – I am completely amazed by the number of fit people in HK! My effort above seemed less than impressive as it put me only at 19th place overall! I finished 7th in my category though. Meaning, there were 12 other people who were older than me or were females and finished ahead of me. Hmmm…

Anyway, the gels seemed to have screwed up the stomach. It took about 4 hours of rest to regain full control of the body!

Stats: 38km, 7th in category, 19th overall. Time: 4 hrs 36 minutes (2011)

Contrast this to 2010, where I was 50th overall and completed 5 hours 35 minutes. About 1 hour difference.



Hiking, 2009-12-20, King of the hills (KOTH) – Sai Kung

Hong Kong’s weather is very temporary. Last week during Care Action, it was unexpectedly hot and that cost me a few minutes. Since then, it’s been pretty cold! I have been quite macho (going around wearing tees, shorts – you get the picture) so I ended up getting a wee bit of a cold which worsened last night. Improper sleep contributed as well (guy downstairs was making too much noise resulting in a disturbed sleep for me).

So, today morning, getting up at 0600 HKT wasn’t particularly pleasant but I did so anyway because chickening out is not my style and I don’t like being a slave to any cold/flu. Registered at 0830 HKT and there were quite a few people but certainly not as many as there were for Care Action.

Race started at 0900 HKT and I started running. My eyes were watery from the cold and I wasn’t able to build momentum. At that point, my body was begging my mind to consider stopping after 18KM (half marathon). I felt about 60% fit. The mind, wouldn’t hear any of that and instead, devised a plan to regain control of the situation. Speed was lowered and I maintained a slow, constant pace and synchronized leg movement with the Mp3 drum beats. I forced myself to bit a slice of a power bar every hour and have a few sips of water even 30 minutes.

Grandmas, grandpas were overtaking me. I felt humiliated but kept cool. I memorized the appearance of every grandma and grandpa from the back and promised myself that I’d overtake them after raising the body fitness level. Eventually, that did happen. Sniffles persisted but energy was building. Around 40 minutes into the race, I went by training protocol – run as fast as possible so long as you breathe normally through the nose, go at lightening pace during downhills. 10 minutes after picking up speed, I had a visual on grandma #1. Overtook her. Then came the downhill parts. I was pretty fast but noticed that the body was losing energy rapidly and eyes were watering again from the cold. Played some rock music and continued as fast as I could but performance wasn’t that great.

Finished the half marathon (18km) at 1125 (2 hrs 25 minutes)

I wasn’t even going to let the thought of quitting enter my mind. I proceeded straight for the Full marathon. Made some wrong turns and ended up at a bus stop but quickly retraced my steps and plodded on.

KOTH Sai Kung, IS NOT easy. Up until the 1/2 way mark, it’s reasonably easy but after that, it is VERY HARD. There are an incredible amount of steep climbs and the trail is overgrown. Full pants will save you many cuts to the legs!

I was exhausted from the cold and had to focus every step of the way. Didn’t even notice the scenery, looked straight down most of the time. I didn’t rest anywhere, forced the legs to keep moving regardless of speed.

Well, several grueling hours later, I managed to bring fitness level to about 75% and finished the race at 1435. Not quite spectacular but I am pleased I didn’t quit and for a debut attempt, this ain’t too bad.

Stats: 5 hrs 35 minutes for 38kms (full marathon)
Position: #50 of all participants (not sure how many there were)

Slept like a log on the bus and have to continue to do that again soon!